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GAR 100 - 11th Edition

Zuleta Abogados

04 April 2018

The new home of one of Colombia’s leading investment arbitrators

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Pending cases as counsel 4
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Current arbitrator appointments 19 (of which 12 are as sole or chair)
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Eduardo Zuleta established this firm in Bogotá at the start of 2017 after eight years leading the international arbitration practice at Gómez-Pinzón Zuleta (previously the only Colombian firm to feature in the GAR 100). He broke away with a team to found a new shop focused on international dispute resolution, human rights, infrastructure, oil and gas and investment protection.

Zuleta cut his teeth at Baker & McKenzie in Bogotá in the 1990s, acting for Merck Sharp & Dohme in some early cases that generated important local court precedents for arbitration. These days, he’s one of the country’s most in-demand arbitrators on the international stage, as well as a vice president of the ICC Court and a member of the LCIA Court and governing board of ICCA.

He was added to ICSID’s panel of arbitrators in 2011 and has sat on investment treaty cases against Bolivia, Greece, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru. He is currently presiding over a US$12 billion claim against Russia brought by former Putin adviser Sergei Pugachev. He’s also listed as an arbitrator at SIAC, the HKIAC and several Latin American institutions.

As a former co-chair of the International Bar Association’s arbitration committee, Zuleta has also had a hand in drafting the IBA’s 2012 guidelines on conflicts of interest and 2013 guidelines on party representation in international arbitration. The Colombian government also appointed him to an expert committee that drafted a new arbitration statute enacted in 2012.

Three senior figures have joined him as partners at the new firm: Rafael Bernal, who spent nearly 20 years as director of the Arbitration Centre of the Bogotá Chamber of Commerce, the country’s main arbitral institution; Gustavo Suárez-Camacho, who has worked for various oil companies and helped the National Hydrocarbons Agency to draft its model exploration and production agreement; and Antonio Aljure, who serves as a co-justice on Colombia’s Council of State and previously sat on the Constitutional Court. All three sit as arbitrators.

The team includes three former senior associates at Gómez-Pinzón who followed Zuleta to his new firm: Rafael Rincón, who joined as partner; and María Angélica Burgos and Estefanía Ponce-Durán, who were later promoted to the partnership. They bring experience of acting in investor-state and commercial arbitrations and experience at firms including Latham & Watkins and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton. Burgos worked in Colombia’s ministry of trade where she helped to negotiate investment treaties and free trade agreements, while Ponce-Durán is admitted to the Paris and New York bars.

The firm’s members do a mix of counsel and arbitrator work, unhampered by the conflicts of interest of a full-service firm.

Who uses it?

Construction clients include Spanish multinationals Ferrovial and Obrascón Huarte Lain, US-based Drummond Company and the Colombian Cementos Argos. Energy companies that use the firm include Hocol Petroleum, Fortune 1000 company Superior Energy Services and Colombia’s state-owned petroleum company Ecopetrol.

US drink producer Tampico Beverages, Colombian car company GM Colmotores, French pharmaceuticals company Servier SAS and Uber Columbia have all been clients.

Track record

An early highlight for the firm came as it obtained recognition for a Chile-seated ICC award in the Colombian Supreme Court. The firm successfully argued that alleged conflicts of interest in international arbitrations should be scrutinised under international standards, such as the IBA guidelines.

Another win came in an ICC arbitration between its US client and a Colombian company concerning the alleged breach of a licence agreement. The firm secured the dismissal of the claims and the tribunal ordered the Colombian party to pay damages.

Recent events

Pending counsel work includes representing Empresa de Energía de Bogotá in an energy project dispute with a Latin American state; a multinational mining company in an Bogotá-seated ICC arbitration worth over US$150 million concerning the transport of coal; and a Swedish multinational in the food industry in another ICC dispute.

It is also counsel to a Canadian telecoms company in an US$100 million dispute with Chilean counterpart Entel.

As arbitrator, Zuleta chaired an ICSID tribunal that awarded US$430 million to Spanish subsidiaries of Mexican food group Gruma in a treaty claim against Venezuela over the expropriation of their tortilla and corn flour business; and he was part of an UNCITRAL tribunal that ordered Russia to suspend efforts to extradite fugitive banker Sergei Pugachev.

The firm is working pro bono for Colombian NGOs and government entities on the implementation of the new Special Justice for Peace project related to the historic peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla group.

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